Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort: A Novel
Roger Martin du Gard (Author),
Luc Brébion (Translator), Timothy Crouse (Translator)
Knopf (1999)

Roger Martin du Gard was born in 1881 in Neuilly-sur-Seine, France. Trained as a paleographer, he turned to fiction in his early twenties, and in 1913 produced his first major work, Jean Barois. In 1920 he embarked on an eight-part family saga, The Thibaults, receiving the Nobel Prize in 1937 for its seventh volume, Summer 1914, a narrative of the tribulations of the Thibault brothers as they face the approach of the First World War. A prolific author who lived in the country and devoted himself almost solely to his vocation, he also wrote plays. It was between the German occupation of France in 1940 and his last days in 1958 that Martin du Gard composed Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort. The novel’s inclusion in the prestigious Pléiade series when it first appeared in 1983 confirmed its status as a classic.

Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort is Roger Martin du Gard’s magnum opus, the crowning achievement of a career that included the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1937.

Written over the final eighteen years of his life and intended only to be read after his death, this tremendous creation sprang from the writer’s unflinching examination of the conundrum of our moral ambivalence: why, knowing what is right, do people do wrong? Martin du Gard’s complex response constitutes one of the most devastating critiques of human behavior ever produced.

The author casts his reflections in the form of a memoir written by Bertrand de Maumort, an aristocrat, a soldier, an intellectual – ostensibly the very flower of European culture at its zenith. Born in 1870, Maumort grows up in a château where a series of enlightened tutors tend to his education. Later, while preparing to enter the French military academy, he lives with his Uncle Éric, a powerful academic whose Sunday at-homes attract such luminaries as Renan, Turgenev, Daudet, and Pasteur. Keenly aware of his advantages, Maumort aspires to self-knowledge and a transcendent objectivity in his relations with the world. But as he describes his progress through life..., he unwittingly betrays an underside: his prejudices, self-deceptions, and moral lapses. Through his portrayal of Maumort and a fascinating array of secondary characters, Martin du Gard dissects mankind in general, and calls into question whether true civilization, much less human progress, exists at all. The result is a work of extraordinary honesty, combining the sweep of his acknowledged master Tolstoy, the penetrating analysis of Proust, and the speculative profundity of Montaigne.

What we have here in English translation is a volume that was carefully pieced together over a period of five years by André Daspre, a professor of literature at the University of Nice. It was published in the original French in 1983 with an ample critical apparatus. The translators have devoted no less than seven years to the preparation of their version, and they are to be congratulated on the excellence of their achievement. The translation is accurate, and reads as smoothly as if it had been written directly in English.
(The New York Review of Books, 2000)

Hailed by the publisher as the long-awaited translation of a masterpiece of twentieth-century fiction, this is that rare instance where the hyperbole is justified—Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort is the real thing... Throughout one is reminded of literary antecedents, beginning with Augustine's Confessions; in the well-drawn historical and social reality, there are strong echoes of Tolstoy; in Maumort's close examination of himself and those near him, one is reminded of Proust ...

For the aficionados, or just for those who want to sustain Martin du Gard's creation, the volume contains letters written by Maumort as well as a sort of daybook.
Brian Kenney (Booklist, January 1, 2000)

Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort is the first English translation of a novel left uncompleted at the author's death is also the first edition to include all its partially inchoate, though consistently fascinating content... Maumort’s memoirs are buttressed (and interestingly qualified) by his letters to a beloved friend and by a concluding gathering of random reflections and aphorisms on various subjects that evoke Pascal's Pensées and perhaps even Montaigne's Essays as precedents. This is a novel that demands intense, possibly repeated reading. Yet its doggedly heroic presentation of a tortured mind and soul hell-bent on understanding itself adds up, eventually, to a reading experience like no other.

One of Martin du Gard's great admirers, Albert Camus, called the older novelist "our perpetual contemporary.'' This unfinished symphony of self-exploration is both close kin to its acknowledged models, Tolstoy and Proust, and a work of startling originality and innovation.
(Kirkus Reviews Associates, 1999)

Translators Luc Brébion and Timothy Crouse have done a superlative job and should be allowed the last word: “Lieutenant-Colonel de Maumort is Martin du Gard’s definitive autopsy of human behavior. It takes a certain mettle to open oneself to the full brunt of his inquest, but the reader who does so will find his fortitude lavishly rewarded.”
(Virginian-Pilot, 2000)

© 2012 Luc Brebion, All Rights Reserved